To start off, the Special Court normally sits in Freetown, in Sierra Leone but has moved to the Hague for Taylor's trial because of concerns over security and of the impact having the trial in Sierra Leone itself could have on peace in the wider region. This is important because it's obviously a bit harder to keep both Sierra Leoneans and Liberians properly informed about far-flung proceedings than it would have been if the trial had occurred in Freetown. It also says a lot about how fragile peace is in both countries if the Liberian authorities in particular were worried that having Taylor in Sierra Leone might lead to increased security threats from his remaining supporters in Liberia.
But to get back to the trial, I've been reading the news stories coming out of the Hague. Allafrica.com has great country by country RSS feeds so I set one up for Liberia. Much of the reporting has come from an Open Society Institute-funded NGO that sent a Sierra Leonean attorney to monitor the proceedings.
With that (undoubtedly insufficient) introduction, I'll move to the Taylor's accounts of events.
One report explained that Taylor claims to anyone who looks will find no evidence that any of his (largely frozen) bank accounts hold any illicit funds or funds obtained from the illegal sale of diamonds. Another tells us that Taylor was too busy with events in Liberia in the early 1990s to have anything to do with events in Sierra Leone.
To be more specific:
To echo a point one of my colleagues made on this I wonder if I could see his appointment calendar, his phone log, and the travel schedule of his close associates because I'm pretty sure it would be embarrassing for Mr. Taylor.
Mr. Taylor said that when rebels attacked Sierra Leone in March 1991, he was busy holding discussions with West African leaders in Senegal geared towards the cessation of hostilities in Liberia and therefore could not have been planning an attack on Sierra Leone.
"At the time of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) invasion of Sierra Leone, I was busy with peace meetings but the prosecution has me busy planning and supporting the RUF in Sierra Leone," Taylor told the judges.
The same article reports that Taylor claims he had too much going on throughout the 1990s to provide ongoing support to the RUF. Of course, Taylor also says that his 1997 "election" to the Liberian presidency was free and fair (despite the fact that monitors said the election had been marred by "widespread pre-poll intidimidation" of the "if you don't vote for me, I will resume war and you and your family will die" variety).
The third week of Taylor's testimony starts next week and if the reports coming out the last two weeks are any indication, it's worth keeping an eye on because you'll learn a lot about how the Liberian conflict supposedly did or didn't happen and how much Taylor had to do with it. I think the coverage has been pretty good at outlining both the prosecution's case and Taylor's responses. The only thing I haven't yet found is good coverage of reactions to the proceedings but if reactions to to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report are any indication,that would provide interesting insight into how populations view these types of efforts.